Sunday, December 28, 2014

I Turn My Feelings Off, Made Me Untouchable for Life


I am arguing that even many people who describe themselves or their goals in invulnerablist terms do not actually live or seek to live that way. The official doctrines, the ones that offer ultimate peace with oneself, a place of stillness that cannot be shaken, are in most cases a misrepresentation of what people are like or even what they want. Instead, something else is happening, something that involves some of the insights of invulnerabilist doctrines but does not embrace them in what I’m calling their official form.

...It seems to me that Taoism, Buddhism, Stoicism, etc. work not by making one invulnerable but rather by allowing one to step back from the immediacy of the situation so that the experience of pain or suffering is seen for what it is, precisely as part of a contingent process, a process that could have yielded a very different present but just happened to yield this one. This, of course, is not the official doctrine either, especially for Stoicism, for which the unfolding of the cosmos is a rational one. (Buddhists will periodically refer to the contingency of the cosmos’ unfolding; however, the concept of nirvana bends that contingency toward something more nearly rational, or at least just.) But it does seem to me to capture their common insight that there is so much about the world that we cannot control; seeking to master it is an illusion. We must learn instead to live with the process in all its contingency, even where we hope to change it for the better. And we must understand that for most of us suffering is inevitable. We can recognize all this and take solace from it without having to take the step of removing ourselves from the desires that lead to suffering.

That's an interesting take on it — people, as usual, don't really know what they want, and if they could actually achieve the invulnerability they think they want, they'd be unhappy in a whole new way. Fortunately for them, by aiming for invulnerability, they will inevitably fall short, but the effort itself will serve as a functional coping mechanism and the result will be good enough. Saved by their own confusion. In fact, perhaps too much clarity and self-awareness here could dispel the illusion and be detrimental to one's mental health.